What Could You Do With a Free Month in Freelance Writers Den? (Contest)

by Carol Tice – 118 Comments

Freelance writer contestIn the spring of 2011, I was sitting in Chicago at SOBCon, listening to a lot of really inspiring online business visionaries, when I got a crazy idea: I should stop musing about whether I should launch a paid membership learning community for freelance writers, and freakin’ launch it, already.

It had become clear I couldn’t execute on my mission of helping the most freelance writers earn more the fastest by coaching writers one at a time. I needed to create trainings hundreds of writers could view at once.

It was also clear that a lot of writers are cash-strapped. If I wanted to help many, I needed to find some affordable way to give many writers access.

The answer seemed to be a membership platform.

Would this really work?

I got crazy busy. Surveys were conducted — what would you want in a writer learning community? What would you pay for that? Webmasters were hired. E-courses were created. Software was purchased…and then, more software when some of the first software wouldn’t talk to some of the other software.

Thousands of dollars were spent, on a flier that writers would find this platform useful for building their writing income. It felt risky…but it also felt like I was moving in the right direction. I felt compelled to create this, to try it out and see if it would help writers.

Just a few months later, on July 11, 2011, Freelance Writers Den opened its virtual doors. All my one-on-one mentees to that point got a free ticket in the door, which helped get things going. We ended that first month with about 100 members.

My big dream and whole business plan was that maybe, if I worked and built this platform for oh, five years or so, it might hit 500 members. Which seemed like the point at which the model would make sense.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, we hit 500 members before the first anniversary.

Today — ten multi-week bootcamps, over 100+ hours of live trainings, and 45,000 open forum comments and hundreds of private messages later — the Den has more than 1,200 members.

It’s still hard for me to believe. Still pinching myself, every day.

I am thrilled beyond words that the Den has turned out to be such a useful resource for so many writers. Seeing the many posts in our “Share Your Success” forum about writers who’re getting better clients or charging higher hourly rates is an absolute highlight of my professional career.

And we’re just getting started. The Den continues to grow and to offer new resources — at members’ request, we’ve just added a forum where members can share feedback and comment on each others’ blogs. Our job board now includes member profiles that are searchable by prospective clients. And this fall, our next bootcamp will be about self-publishing — the booming opportunity for writers to diversify their business and add more income.

That’s the story of how the Den came to be, and how it grew. What’s next? An essay contest to celebrate our third anniversary, among other goodies!

Contest details:

To celebrate the Den anniversary, I’m holding a contest right here on the blog. Contest begins today (Wednesday, July 9.)

First prize: 1 month free in the Den.

Got prizes for 6 runners-up, too: three 20-minute mini-mentoring sessions with me, and three e-book bundles of every e-book I’ve got.

To enter, post your answer below on the topic: What I Could Do With a Free Month in Freelance Writers Den.

Where’ve you been so far as a writer, and what could you do with your freelance writing career if you had access to those Den resources?

Hint: Pleas about how desperately broke you are will not get you a win. Brilliant, compelling writing and a unique story will.

I’ll come on back and update this post to announce the winners on Monday.

Eligibility: Current Den members are ineligible to win the free month, but may win any of the other prizes.

Good luck, all!

P.S. If you don’t win, take heart — a month in the Den is just $25 — and there’s no obligation, you can quit anytime.

P.P.S – OK, I’m back with the winners! Congrats to ebook winners Michelle B, Penelope, and Amber E, who won three free ebooksThe Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success, How to be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger, and 13 Ways to Get the Writing Done Faster. Also excited to announce KJ, Kim H and Amy N snagged free 20-minute, 1-on-1 mentoring sessions with me.

And our 1-month free in the Den winner is…drumroll please…Cindy Brown! Congrats to all the winners. This was a very tough contest to judge, folks! I loved so many entries — you’re all awesome.

The Freelance Writers Den: Learn More

How to Get Over Your Paralyzing Article Writing Fears

by Carol Tice – 24 Comments

Anxious freelance writerIt’s a long way to go from the spark of a story idea to a finished article that appears in a magazine.

Along the way, many writers get stuck. Fears stop them in their tracks.

The years go by, and they don’t get published. Their dream of seeing their byline in a magazine falls by the wayside.

Writer fears on parade

Among the fears I hear a lot:

“I’m worried my story idea isn’t good enough.”

“I’m not sure which editor to send it to, so I gave up.”

“I’m scared to do interviews! Are there any articles I can write where I won’t have to talk to anyone?”

“I write my draft, but then I’m afraid to send it in.”

“I had an editor ask me to write an article, but then I just froze.”

“I got my draft back and my editor wanted all these changes. Now I’m crushed! And I think my writing must not be any good.”

Here’s the one I saw recently that really tore it for me. One writer posted in the Freelance Writers Den forums:

“I sent this pitch to my first choice magazine three weeks ago.

“When would it be safe to send this to another publication?”

Okay. Let’s stop this, right now.

Is it safe?

If you’ve been living a corporate, day-job kind of life, freelancing can seem scary. Nothing is assured.

And that leaves you alone with your insecurities rattling around in your head, filling up your thoughts.

The first thing to do is to stop thinking this way, and reframe how you think about the things you need to do as a freelancer that scare you.

Here are three ways to attack and overcome these fears.

The worst-case scenario

First, ask yourself: What are you really afraid of, anyway? What’s the worst that could happen, in any of these scenarios above?

In all cases, I’m going to take a flier and guess that your life is not in danger here.

Maybe your pride gets a little dinged. An editor says “no.”

So what? There are a lot of editors in the sea. You move on and try another one, is all.

When you think of it that way…what’s so scary? Nothing. Freelancing is completely safe to try. Just go for it.

Life isn’t safe

The second way to think about freelancing fears is to view them in the right context.

What is really safe in this world? Nothing.

Not your day job. Not your lifespan. Not a thing. Each breath involves risk. And so does freelancing.

So why not dare?

Freelancing favors the bold. It’s about taking risks and seeing what happens, and learning from that and doing better next time.

See it as an experiment. Emotionally detach yourself a bit from it and view it like a scientist. What could happen if I sent that query? Wrote that article? Let’s find out!

Try, measure, improve, repeat. That’s a successful freelancer’s path — and the road out of being mired in fears and not moving forward.

Up your skills

Finally, if you really feel you’re not moving forward because of a knowledge gap, you could learn more about article writing to build your confidence. Might give you the boost over the fear hump that you need.

To answer that last writer’s question, it was “safe” to send that query to another publication all along. Or as safe as freelancing will ever be. Feel that danger, and do it anyway.

That’s the only way to succeed as a freelance writer.

What’s your biggest article-writing fear? Share it — or your own fear-busting tips — in the comments.

 

The Simple Email Marketing Tactic That Tripled My Response Rate

by Editor – 38 Comments

emailBy KeriLynn Engel

When I first started freelance writing full time, I was sending out email letters of introduction (LOIs) left and right, sometimes dozens in a week.

Some writing gurus will tell you email marketing is just a numbers game. But if you’re sending out a ton of LOIs and still hearing crickets — like I was — you need a new strategy.

So I created a more targeted and streamlined LOI strategy. Now I spend only a couple hours a week sending LOIs, and my response rate has more than tripled, from less than 5 percent to 15 percent or more. Here’s what I did:

Get prospects in your email inbox

The first step is to save time by setting up a system where prospects are sent to you automatically — prospects with a high likelihood of needing a freelance writer.

Press releases are a great source for finding those prospects, so I started by subscribing to them via RSS feeds. Try VCAOnline.com for venture capital and private equity news, or PRWeb for press releases organized by industry. Companies that just got VC or angel investor money are often ramping up marketing, and companies that put out press releases have a marketing budget — and those releases often bring news of company expansion that might trigger more marketing needs.

Copy the URL of the RSS feed by right-clicking on the RSS symbol and choosing “Copy link URL.” Now head on over to Blogtrottr.com, a free RSS-to-email service. Paste the URL into the field, fill in your email, and choose “Daily Digest.”

To prevent inbox clutter, I have a filter set up in Gmail that labels all my press releases “Prospects” and sets them to skip my inbox so I can look at them when I choose.

Qualify your ideal prospects

Now you’re rolling in prospects! A few times a week, you can peruse them for ones that seem like a good fit.

The ideal prospect is a business in your target niche that just got millions in new funding, because you know they can afford to hire you. If the press release says they’re spending the new funding on marketing, that’s a bonus! Mention it in your LOI, and point out how you can help them.

Sleuth out contact information

Find the name and email address of the person in charge of marketing — it may be listed right on that press release. If not, go to their website and look for their management team. Look for the marketing manager, chief marketing officer, or anyone with “marketing” in their title or job description. Next, you’ll have to hunt down their email address, if it’s not listed on the website.

Write a short & sweet LOI template

A person is less likely to read an email when they don’t know the sender, so you want to get right to the point. Here’s my super-short, no-pressure template:

Hi [Name],

Just saw the press release about [some good news]- congrats!

My name’s KeriLynn Engel, and I’m a professional freelance writer specializing in [niche]. I wanted to reach out to see if you have a need for any written marketing materials like [list examples]. (Optional short sentence here about your experience in the industry or suggestion about what their marketing is missing that you could provide.)

Let’s chat if you’re interested. Just hit “reply” or call me at 800-555-5555. Thank you,
[Name]
[Email signature with your portfolio URL.]

Consider providing a phone number

Including a phone number in my LOI boosts credibility: not many spammers provide phone numbers! But I don’t want unknown callers using my personal number. Instead, I use a free Google Voice number. They can leave a message, and I can call back at my convenience.

By spending just a few hours a week on this strategy, I’m in constant negotiations with new freelance writing client leads. Last month, I signed a couple of new contracts and was able to let go of my lowest-paying client, which feels great.

What do you put in your LOIs? Leave a comment and share your tips.

KeriLynn Engel is one of those rare freelance writers who actually loves marketing. Her writing niches include history, education, WordPress, and crafts/DIY. Connect with her on LinkedIn

When Your Interview Source is a Total Blowhard: 5 Survival Tips

by Carol Tice – 26 Comments

Blowhard interview source can't stop talkingIf you write articles and interview people, sooner or later, it’s going to happen: You’ll get an expert on the phone, and they’re a gabber.

You ask a question, and off they tear on some odd tangent that has nothing to do with your story. Or they simply can’t stop talking about their own greatness, or telling stories about the good old days of their business. Blah, blah, blah.

You feel like your brain is being sanded with heavy-grit sandpaper.

Your interview source takes up way more time than you had allotted, hurting your hourly rate. Worse, you hang up with the nagging feeling that you have reams of notes, but nothing useful for your article. You’ll have to call them back or find another source to finish your story!

To earn well as a freelance article writer, you’ve got to prevent this problem. I know, because I’ve written a ton of reported articles — over 1,000 pieces at just one of my two staff-writer jobs, and nearly all those assignments required interviews.

Just as a matter of survival, I’ve had to learn how to make blowhards get to the point, fast. Here are my five tips for staying in control of your interviews:

1. Set time limits

Blowhards are a lot like toddlers. They function better if you set expectations early.

If you forgot to say when you set the interview time, begin your chat by telling the source how much time you’ve got for them. Ordinarily, the answer should be 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s all the time you should usually need from a source who is one of several in a story. Only situation where you want to allot more time is if the person is the focus of a lengthy profile, where they are the main interview.

Remember, the longer you talk to sources, the more quotes they will expect to see by them in your article — so don’t set up false expectations.

I used this time-limit technique just this week, during an exclusive interview with the CEO of a major, newly public company that’s being sued. It quickly became clear he wanted an hour or more of my time to filibuster with his side of the story, in hopes of getting me to tilt the story in favor of the corporation’s point of view. As soon as I realized this, I broke in to tell them I’d have to go in 30 minutes.

Presto: They spit out the important info in the following five minutes, allowing me to get my story filed.

2. Ask your big question first

As soon as you peg your source as a blowhard, you need to look at your question list and prioritize ruthlessly. The moment they take a breath, leap in and ask your top question. Say:

“That’s fascinating…but first up, I have this one question I need to be sure we get to. Then we can get back to that topic you were just discussing. It’s this…”

Then ask it, real quick.

The assurance that they can return to their pet topic will usually jolly the blowhard into suffering to attend to your agenda, at least for a few minutes.

3. Guide them back on track

Some blowhards never seem to take a breath. If that’s the case, you’ve still got to break in and regain control of the interview.

Look for any opportunity to pipe up. Cough. Loudly drop the phone and then apologize for doing that, just to break their flow.

Then say:

“Yes, but if I may, I really need to bring this back around to the topic of X. I’ve got a few questions I must get answered for this story, and if it’s OK, I’d like to quickly ask them now. Then we can pick up the thread of Y.”

Even the most diehard blatherer will usually agree to that.

4. Make it in their interest

The trick to charming blowhards into focusing on the topic you want is making it seem like that’s good for them. Don’t focus on your needs. If they’re just rambling on, they may need a little training on how the interview process works best. Say:

“I’ll be able to showcase your opinions to best advantage in this story if I ask a few key questions up front, that you answer concisely. Then, if we have time, we can get into other areas of interest to you. I’d love to do that, as it gives me story ideas for future articles.”

The carrot that this chat might be leveraged for more than one article is usually an irresistible one for blowhards — after all, they’re talking to you because they’re in love with being quoted in publications.

5. Breathe and let go

Trying to interrupt the most hardcore blowhard may only make them ramble on longer. If you’ve got the time, sometimes it’s better to simply take deep breaths and let them tire themselves out.

Eventually, the blowhard will usually pipe up with, “Is that the sort of stuff you were looking for?” or words to that effect. That’s your chance to point out that you need a few other points covered and to return to your questions.

Quietly keep half an ear attuned while you do deep breathing exercises, pop a few mini-crunches at your desk, file your nails, scan email, or engage in other sanity-saving distractions, until you sense your opportunity to pop up with your question. Then, scratch this blowhard off your source list and don’t use them again.

How do you keep control of your interviews? Leave a comment and add your tips.